Picture of the Week: Portrait of Rex Lamoreaux by Mary L. Aro

March 12, 2023

Portrait of Rex Lamoreaux, Mary L. Aro, 1986, watercolor, 30 1/4 x 22 3/4 in.

Mary Louise Cromar Aro is a notable Detroit-born artist. She received her MFA from Wayne State University in 1982. Since then, “Aro has developed her own unique style of realism, incorporating a strong sense of abstract space and form.” Aro is now retired, but she works in her studio in her Michigan home, studying “and exploring new imagery in oil.” 

Aro’s use of realism is very much at the forefront of her 1986 watercolor portrait of Rex Lamoreaux, who was a Wayne State alumnus, collector, and notable figure for the Wayne State University Art Collection. As a collector, Lamoreaux was attracted to art’s ability to teach viewers about perspectives from all over the world. In addition to James Pearson Duffy, “Lamoreaux was one of the largest contributors to the Wayne State University Art Collection.” He collected national and international art, but Lamoreaux was primarily interested in Michigan artists, Aro included. Lamoreaux has also made financial contributions to the University Art Collection through the Rex E. Lamoreaux Endowed Fund, “which supports the long-term acquisition of new art works and maintenance of the existing collection.” Aro’s portrait of Lamoreaux was included in a 2006 exhibition at the Wayne State University Art Department Gallery, entitled Lamoreaux Collects. Her realistic rendering of Lamoreaux celebrates him as an important contributor to the archive of Detroit art. She seats Lamoreaux in a wooden chair within a space that appears to be his home. Aro fills the composition with great detail and varied textures: from the wrinkles of Lamoreaux’s skin, to the stitching of his cardigan, to the grooves in the wood of his chair, frames, desk, and wall. Perhaps Aro’s abundant use of texture in this portrait shares some resemblance with the detail present in Northern Renaissance paintings of the 15th and 16th centuries. 

In addition to her use of realism to capture Lamoreaux’s likeness, Aro highlights his passion for art within the composition.  She does so through her inclusion of the image resting on the desk in the background. The work in the background depicts what appears to be a mother and child, standing next to a tombstone. This scene is situated within a natural landscape, with what looks to be a castle in the distance. The castle, style of the tombstone, and clothing of the two figures suggest that this image could be from the Middle Ages. Aro’s use of color in the hanging image also seems to hold some parallels with her use of color for Lamoreaux. The landscape in the background work contains cool-toned shades of blue and green, while the rest of the tombstone, architecture, and figures are in grayscale. Likewise, Aro paints Lamoreaux’s clothing in shades of blue, while the space around him comprises different shades of brown. Perhaps Aro intended to link Lamoreaux with the landscape in the background through color as a way to communicate the connection he felt with art. Additionally, the cropped picture frame in the upper right corner of the portrait indicates that there is another image hanging on the wall in the background. This frame, paired with the full image resting on the desk, serve as a means for Aro to share a glimpse of Lamoreaux’s home and passion for art with us; One might imagine that if this portrait were expanded, the rest of the wall would be filled with artwork. 

Written by Angela Athnasios

Sources: "Wayne State University Art Collection Newsletter-Fall 2013"



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